Blinken honors Iranian Women in Freedom House Awards

“People don’t have weapons. They have mobile phones. They have social media," and “these are among the strongest tools in democracy’s arsenal."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo: U.S. State Department)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo: U.S. State Department)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Speaking at Freedom House’s annual awards ceremony, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid special tribute to the women of Iran for their persistent efforts in demanding they should be allowed to freely exercise their most basic freedoms without facing any penalties for doing so.

The Iranian journalist, Aida Ghajar, was one of the recipients of Freedom House’s award this year. Blinken cited her presence at the event on Tuesday evening, noting that people like Ghajar “are defending human rights on the frontlines, often at extraordinary personal risk.”

First Reporter to Identify Zhina Amini as Victim of “Morality Police”

Ghajar, who writes for “IranWire,” was the first journalist to report the name of the young Kurdish woman, Zhina (Mahsa) Amini, who died last September, while she was under the detention of Tehran’s so-called “morality police” for not wearing her headscarf properly. 

Ghajar earlier spoke with the Voice of America (VOA) and explained that she “had no idea the story would become so huge.” But “as news of Amini’s death spread, protests erupted across Iran” to Ghajar’s surprise. 

Amini’s death and Ghajar’s reporting of it had touched a raw nerve. As Ghajar told the VOA, the story began after she saw a tweet that a young woman was in a coma, after being taken into custody by the morality police. She contacted her sources in Iran to verify the information and soon had a name and contact number.

She called that number, and it belonged to Amini’s brother, who was “distraught.” He really wanted the story out, telling Ghajar, “I have nothing to lose and I’m going to tell everyone in Iran.”

Ghajar now lives in Paris, but the Iranian regime is known to target its opponents abroad. That includes the New York-based journalist, Masih Alinejad, a reporter for the Voice of America, who has faced Iranian threats to kidnap and kill her, and for which three men were recently arrested.

Read More: US: Iran behind Azeri criminal gang that plotted assassination of dissident in New York

“For months now, Aida and hundreds of thousands of Iranian women,” Blinken said at Freedom House, “with the support of many of their male compatriots, have demanded their basic freedoms be respected, even in the face of the most brutal repression.”

The Importance of the Internet

Biden’s address included a discussion of the changes wrought by recent technological developments, both positive and negative, including the internet.

“Now, we know unfettered access to the internet is essential for defending human rights and human freedoms,” he affirmed. 

“Aida Ghajar’s news outlet, IranWire, used the internet to receive critical information from inside Iran to do everything from documenting an accurate death toll from the repression of protests, to sharing live footage of the regime’s crackdown, to gathering and disseminating reporting by its network and citizen journalists,” Blinken continued.

He cited one Iranian journalist who described the source of the people’s power, saying, “People don’t have weapons. They have mobile phones. They have social media.”

“These are among the strongest tools in democracy’s arsenal,” Blinken affirmed, as he explained that the U.S. was “leading a global effort” to “protect and advance internet freedom, particularly in areas where governments are most aggressively repressing it.”

“When the Iranian regime tried to throttle internet access for most of its 80 million citizens,” he continued, “we issued a General License that enables technology firms to provide more digital services, hardware, and software” to Iranians, “from access to cloud computing services to better tools to enhance their own online security and privacy.”

“These tools have been essential in helping Iranians not only report on the regime’s abuses, but to tell their own stories and exercise their right to free expression,” he stated. And so “we’re committed to expanding similar efforts around the world wherever necessary.”